On Wednesday, November 14, Rosa – Socialist Feminist Movement held a protest in Limerick’s city centre.
The “End Victim Blaming in the Courts!” protest took place on Thomas Street, and was in response to a defence lawyer asking the jury to consider the underwear a 17-year old girl was wearing.
“Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone? You have to look at the way she was dressed, she was wearing a thong with a lace front”, Elizabeth O’Connell SC said in a recent Cork Circuit Criminal Court case.
ROSA (for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism & Austerity) estimates that fifty people showed up at the event, including Mayor of Limerick City and County, James Collins.
Mr Collins told the Limerick Voice that he attended: “As a counsellor, as a local representative, but also as Mayor of Limerick just to provide my support and to be here and just to say to the women of Limerick and of Ireland that we do support you.”
He continued by urging victims to come forward and report it: “We would like the rapist to be convicted, and if that takes the system to change so that can happen then it needs to change.”
Aislinn O’Keeffe of ROSA said that she was horrified but not surprised by the case which happened in Cork where a 27 year old man was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old girl.
“We were here again in March when we had the Ulster rugby rape trail where similar comments were made, the victim was treated very badly and we’re still angry that this is still happening and there’s nothing really been done about it.”
The ROSA activist believes that judges, jury members, defence barristers, and solicitors need to be trained on how to deal with rape victims and that there needs to be guidelines as to what questions or what kind of defence is to be allowed in court.
“We already have an extremely low reporting rate and victims feel ‘what’s the point’ in going to the authorities because nothing is going to be done, they’re not going to be believed, they’re going to be treated very badly and it would definitely put people off”, she continued.
Mr Collins was accompanied by fellow local election Fianna Fail candidate Trina O’Dea who said that she was disgusted and scared by the case.
“I don’t think it’s very fair for any victim, male or female, to be questioned the way this victim was and for an implication that the clothing she wore, be it visible or not, had a part to play in what happened to her is worrying and honestly really disgusting” she said.
Mr Collins said that when he first heard about the case he thought he was hearing about a case from a hundred years ago, but when he thought about it, it wasn’t a surprise.
“Women are rightly concerned that they become the victim twice. They’re the victim of rape and then they’re also subject to intensive cross examination of themselves and their lifestyle and some of their oven private matters… they first of all have to relieve the original ordeal and rape but then have to be subjected to an equally harrowing ordeal when they’re asked to take the stand” he said.
“It’s not compatible with modern Ireland and the way our society has progressed or I though was progressing.”
Both the Mayor and Ms O’Dea made reference to how George Hook was suspended from Newstalk due to controversial comments he made, and that court members should be held to the same standard.
“For a male radio presenter to have to leave his position because it happened on local radio questions why its allowed to happen in a court of law so I think the bigger picture is that the law needs to be looked at I think, its even more wrong for one women to do it to another women to basically imply that the underwear she wore on the night was part of the reason why this happened to her was wrong” Ms O’Dea said.
As for what can be done to change the way courts deal with rape cases Mr Collins said: asking the victim to take the stand to be cross examined on themselves and on their lifestyle choices is reliving the ordeal for them, it’s the burden of proof that’s put back onto the victim rather than onto the accused and I think that’s wrong.”
Ms O’Dea said that in order to change the system: “There needs to be more of what happened in Limerick today.”
A similar protest was held on the same day by the ROSA branch in Dublin.